"He often cared for his own horse and milked the family cow, but so did most of his neighbors."
- The World Book Encyclopedia, on Abraham Lincoln
The other day when I was in town, I found myself with a break between appointments and nothing to do for an hour. Since I was in the vicinity, I decided to go over to the Wheeler Historic Farm and scope it out.
It had intrigued me since I was a kid, when it was a regular farm, set back from 900 East on 6300 South, when that part of the valley was still quite rural. The farmhouse was so "storybook" that you couldn't miss it, sitting the way it was at the end of a long lane, with a huge barn and fences framing the fields on either side.
A few years ago, I was pleased when I noticed that Salt Lake County had decided to preserve it. Who would have thought it would be interesting for a group of Cub Scouts to see what a milk house looks like, or that there would be grade school kids who'd never heard of a root cellar.
As I walked around, I realized that everything had a familiar ring, because it was a part of my past . . . everything from farm gates with wire loops to hold them shut to the smell of the hay loft and the sound of chickens in the chicken coop.
I walked out past the pond and toward a back corner where old farm wagons and implements were sitting. In the distance, I could hear kids in tour groups laughing and talking, and I realized that to them this was a totally different place than it was to me. I felt like I wanted to just pull some group of second-graders to the side and explain to them, in emphatic description, everything I remembered about my memories of Grandpa's farm, where I was always terrified by a big Holstein bull in a small corral out by the barn. I would tell them about Larry Devey's grandpa's barn and about the watering trough next to it where we floated cucumber boats.
Every time I taste or smell a cucumber, I go back to that watering trough.
I want to tell them how it felt to dip my hand into a bin of grain, or how it was to coax a milk cow to stick her head into a stanchion and then to ease myself down on a milk stool and settle my head against her flank. She was so big. I could hear the rumbling of her stomach. Every time she would move I could feel her full weight pushing against me.
Like trying to describe how to ride a bike, it is impossible to explain how to squeeze a cow's teats so the milk comes out. My dad could milk a cow dry in what seemed like seconds. I labored over it for hours. I can still hear the sounds of milk streams hitting the tinny bottom of the bucket, then as it filled, the rhythmic, mellow sound as the milk streams broke through the foam.
I can feel the cow's tail swinging around the back of my head and whipping my face as if I were a large fly she were swatting. I remembered how relieved I was when her bag finally went loose and the bucket was full. When I got it to the house, Mom would get a cloth, wrap it around the mouth of the bucket and strain the warm milk into gallon Miracle Whip bottles. If there were more milk than the bottles would hold, she would pour the rest into open pans that she put on the second shelf of the fridge. By the next day it would have thick skin of cream on top, which she would skim off into quart bottles for butter and whipping cream.
I would have liked to describe all this to those passing kids, but I restrained myself, realizing that they would look at me like I was wacko and say, "So?"
This is why making a farm into a museum makes sense. It gives kids a chance to realize what is in those plastic bottles in the fridge that they pour onto their Fruit Loops every morning.